Showing posts from July, 2012

book response: The Sparrow by Russell (1996)

Cover of The Sparrow: A Novel I read Mary Doria Russell's premier novel, The Sparrow, this past weekend. I forced myself to take breaks from it so I could be a participating member of my family. It was very good. Since it is a 16 year old book, I don't feel bad discussing the ending, but this is a spoiler for those who don't know, like me, who are new to this book.

I don't read much fiction, but sometimes on a lark from a recommendation at a blog I enjoy, I take a risk. It was a good risk. Ultimately, this is about God, the problem of evil, rape, death, sacrifice, and despair.

I am very interested in Russell's jab at the problem of evil, which comes at the end. The Jesuit interplanetary missionary ends up the lone survivor of an exploration party to an alien civilization. But he survived because he became an exotic sex toy to one of the alien species and he suffered repeated sodomy. (This is quite the irony in light of the scandal of the pederastic priests who came…

Matthew's gospel and Batman: The Dark Knight Rises

I saw The Dark Knight Rises last night and it had a scene at the end which reminded me of a cryptic scene in Matthew's gospel when Christ is crucified. So this is your spoiler alert, if you haven't seen the movie and are planning on it.
Here is the passage from Matthew 27:52,53
The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many. It's an interesting couple of verses because it's so miraculous it borders on near absurdity for even an evangelical. When evangelical theologian Mike Lacona wrote a massive defense of the historicity of the resurrection, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, he ended up resigning from his job for writing that his understanding this passage is not literal. He wrote, "Based on my reading of the Greco-Roman, Jewish, and biblical literature, I proposed that the raised saints are best in…

book response: Helmet for my Pillow by R. Leckie (1952)

Cover via Amazon After watching HBO's The Pacific recently, I was reminded that this book, Helmet for my Pillow by Robert Leckie, has been on my "to read" list since I readSledge's "With the Old Breed." Sledge wrote really well, but Leckie writes on a different level. Sledge writes with the spotlight more on his internal turmoil, but Leckie looks around him. He was a reporter before he enlisted in the Marines and went back to that career after the war. His vocabulary is extensive and college level, keep your dictionary at hand, or read it on your Kindle, like I did. His style is also thorough, even meandering at times, a style I appreciate because I'm also guilty.

His observations on humanity are timeless, also the behavior of humans seems to be the same over the last 70 years at least.
It is an American weakness. The success becomes the sage. Scientists counsel on civil liberty; comedians and actresses lead political rallies; athletes tell us what bran…

book response: A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead (2011)

Caroline Moorehead in A Train in Winter:An Extraordinary story of women, friendship, and resistance in occupied France paints a devastating portrait of lives who were shoved into the Nazi meat grinder leaving only a few alive. A few survived, but were broken by their own citizens who collaborated with the occupiers and by the SS in the death camps in Poland.

The initial organized resistance came from the French communists, who were influential  in the trade unions as well as assisting the Spanish resisters of Franco. Their organization was in place when Hitler's armies rolled in and Petain capitulated. They went right to work publishing underground broadsides and essays as well as defacing Nazi posters. Eventually they moved into violent resistance. However, the French police were active in tailing and bringing down the resistance. They were able to make mass arrests. The arrests ended in execution for many by the SS.

In the face of such utter waste of French blood, with the assis…

pastors and political advocacy

Who should religious leaders advocate for in political dialog? I'm not of the opinion that pastors should wear political muzzles, they are indeed participants in the societies they serve. However, should they affiliate themselves with people or parties? Who did Jesus affiliate with? He pissed off every political party in his neck of the woods, the religious parties (Pharisees and Sadducees) and the political party (the Herodians). Jesus said he came for the sick not the healthy (self-righteous). He sided with the outcasts repeatedly, the lepers, the handicapped, the poor, the traitors, the whores, the drunks, the half-breeds, the non-Jews, the women and children, all who were marginalized by those with political power. He had a pleasant conversation with one insider in particular, it seemed the the guy was getting it, Jesus' message of a kingdom based in hearts, not land. So Jesus told him all he needed to do was sell everything and give it to the poor. The guy left crestfalle…

Biblical numerology for dummies

I don't even know what numerology is, much less the biblical version, but as I read Revelation 7 with a few high school kids we got talking about numbers.

In this chapter 12,000 comes up 12 times, adding up to 144,000. One of their questions is what's with those numbers? I told them,holding onto those numbers literally got the Jehovah's Witnesses in trouble in the early 1900's. They thought the end was near and only 144,000 would make it to heaven. But their recalculated dates kept passing with nothing happening except cause stress. Then they got more than 144,000 members. I then pointed out that the 12 tribes listed there aren't the 12 sons of Israel. In this list Dan is missing, and Joseph is listed as well as his son Manasseh, but not Ephraim. So I concluded with them that God likes certain numbers, more as themes than as headcounts. So with "twelve" there are a dozen sons of Israel, but when Levi's tribe didn't get an inheritance in the promis…

book response: Hell in the Pacific (2012)

I had too many books in my hands from the new book shelf at my local library. Since I only get them for two weeks, I needed to make hard choices. I'm happy I kept Hell in the Pacific: A Marine Rifleman's Journey From Guadalcanal to Peleliu, the story of Marine Jim McEnery written with Bill Sloan. Sloan has written several books on the Pacific Theater of World War 2. I had to warm up to this book though. This is not With the Old Breed by Sledge, which I recently read, but McEnery had met Sledge and fought with him in theater. Sledge is quoted several times, as well as several other writers on the war.

As friends were made by McEnery, only to have them die, I realized that this was a different kind of story than Sledge's. This book was not about the big picture, although he did take frequent swipes at "Dugout" Douglas MacArthur, but the small picture of one soldier, who survived Gaudalcanal, Cape Gloucester, and Peleliu without earning a Purple Heart. His worst ph…

book response: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (2010)

Mockingjay (Photo credit: Wikipedia) My eldest really wanted me to share this world of Suzanne Collins with her, so she had put her name on the long reserves for this series so she could read them, The Hunger Games trilogy, then give them to me to read. This last book was a better read for me than the previous one. As I wrote previously, Collins is not Tolstoy, and the voice of a teenaged girl is so foreign to me, but I liked Mockingjay better than Catching Fire. The morass of the teenaged girl's inner world is still there to wade through, but didn't seem to occupy as many pages as the previous book.

As a parent who read aloud to his children a couple times Collin's previous series, Gregor the Overlander, I chuckled at Collin's reuse of an underground world for her setting. It was an underground civilization that Gregor from above discovered and adventured, much like Katniss in District 13, the nuclear equipped district that successfully seceded from Panem and survived…

book response: 1493 by Charles C. Mann (2011)

I really enjoyed Mann's previous work 1491, see that report here, but this one was even better. My biology concentration at UConn, oh so many years ago, was in ecology. The interconnected web of the life sciences is a thrill to me, as it is in my current career as a ADME biologist. But I also enjoy the interconnectedness of history. This book, 1493, explaining how the world changed after Columbus landed in Caribbean in 1492, is an exemplary web and enthralling to read. Since I borrowed the book from my local library I refrained from dog earring the pages, but if I had my own copy, it would be a mess. The concept I most enjoyed was the homogocene. There's no good link out there for this concept, so I'll take a stab at explaining it. Once Columbus enabled the Spaniards to establish beach heads in the Americas they biomes of the continents started to mix. Then when the Spaniards crossed the Pacific and established a trading post on the western side of the Philippines to trade…

Kreeft on Christ in The Lord of the Rings

My beloved wife is totally into Tolkien and his world. She audited a class at her alma mater, Connecticut College, this past spring and has continued tracking down lots of critical works on The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien. She has a thesis brewing in her mind about J.R.R.'s biblical inspirations. One of the books recommended to her by her professor is by Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien: The worldview behind The Lord of the Rings (2005). When she finished it, she thought I would enjoy the concluding chapter, subtitled, "Can any one man incarnate every truth and virtue?" The answer is, yes, but only one, Christ.
Cover via Amazon

There is so much good in this brief chapter, which is published in full online here. It's written like an old time sermon. I need to quote a few paragraphs from it.
Throughout the New Testament we find a shocking simplicity. Christ does not merely teach the truth, He is the truth; He does not merely show us the way, He is the way; He d…